Remember back in those days when the Flyers used to play nearby rivals Pittsburgh, New Jersey and the New York teams five, six or even seven times a season?
Sure you do. They happened as recently as last year.
But all that’s changed now, thanks to the NHL’s revised “balanced’’ schedule.
Under the new system, division foes such as the Penguins and Rangers will play Philadelphia a grand total of just three times this season.
That means a solitary visit to Philadelphia by the Penguins for the 2022-23 schedule (Black Friday, Nov. 25) and what fun is it when Flyers fans only get to boo beloved Sidney Crosby for a single time at the Wells Fargo Center for the entire campaign?
In other words, The Battle of Pennsylvania has sort of been reduced to the Keystone Conflict.
Or how about those annual appearances at Madison Square Garden for some classic encounters with the Broadway Blueshirts? Well, if you happened to have your TV tuned in to the third game of the World Series on Tuesday night, Nov. 1 (and who didn’t?), you missed your one and only opportunity to see the Flyers skate in the World’s Most Famous Arena this season.
As much as the NHL wants to provide exposure for all its young stars around North America, it shouldn’t come at the expense of division rivalries.
This really comes to light when the Flyers’ schedule hits the stretch run. Instead of battling it out night after night against traditional foes, the Flyers play only three of their final 13 games against Metropolitan Division opponents.
Flyers coach John Tortorella is not a big fan of the reconfigured slate, especially because of situations like not getting to play in New York more than once.
“That sucks,’’ he said after Wednesday’s practice at the Flyers Training Center. “I don’t know how they do the schedule.’’
On the flip side, Tortorella believes true rivalries are built through playing a team four, five, six or seven times in a playoff series.
“A lot of people ask about that,’’ he said. “I think you create rivalries through playoffs. It’s playing a team seven times in two weeks.
“Hopefully we have an opportunity to play the Rangers for a couple weeks. That’s where you create it. The game has changed so much. In playoffs, that’s where it happens.’’
Maybe so but the gaps between games against some division opponents just seem too long under this set-up. Example: The Flyers played the Carolina Hurricanes on Oct. 29. They won’t see them again until March 18.
Or how about facing the Islanders on Nov. 26 and Nov. 29, then playing them only one more time (Feb. 6) the rest of the season.
While the chance to get a peek at Edmonton superstar Connor McDavid might get some Flyers fans juiced up, we’re guessing they would rather have another one or two more shots at Crosby.
It sure beats watching the Vancouver Canucks.
>World Cup of Hockey on hold
As great as the level of play has been in the Olympics and Canada Cup over the past few decades, let’s not forget how exciting the World Cup of Hockey has been.
Take the United States upset of Canada in the 1996 WC. The Americans lost the first game of the best-of-three finals in Philadelphia, then came back and won two straight on Canadian soil (ice) in Montreal.
That’s why it was sad to hear the NHL and NHL Players’ Association have abandoned plans to hold a World Cup of Hockey in 2024.
Of course, somehow international politics factored into the decision.
According to TSN.ca, they made the announcement in a joint statement Friday calling it not feasible to hold the tournament as they had hoped in February. The league and union say they hope to stage it in February 2025 and will continue to plan for that.
There has not been a World Cup for the sport since 2016 for various reasons. This time, the war in Ukraine was the reason because some countries did not want Russians to participate and players want the best in the world to take part.
Pushing plans to 2025 buys the league and players another year to figure out what to do with the Russia issue. Deputy commissioner Bill Daly said some countries refused to play if Russians were allowed to participate, even if not in national team uniforms.